May 19, 2011

WALK: origin

"Origin" by Kathryn Beals, 2010
The front of our bulletin at Grace has quotes for reflection as we gather to worship.  Frequently, I also like to feature a piece of art on the cover with a similar function, tied to the sermon series or to the current period of the Christian calendar.

This past month has featured an artwork by Kathryn Beals called "Origin."  Her art has been featured in the past for our Advent season covers.  This past fall, I asked a few visual artists at Grace to reflect upon one of the themes in our FOLLOW series in hopes that I could feature it on the cover of a sermon series this winter/spring.  Kathryn chose the WALK sermon, and "Origin" is the result.  Not only has the painting enriched our community, it also took on a unique significance in her life.  In her own words:
Most of my surreal landscapes are based on dreams, and I had had a vivid dream just before the birth that my baby was at the top of a mountain on an island and I had to get him. The mountain in the dream reminded me of a difficult pass Travis and I climbed in the Sierras a few years ago, so I painted it in the distance. I started painting with the Walk theme in mind but it took on new meaning for me with Max's birth - the contractions started 12 hours after I finished painting it, and I ended up using it as a "focal point" during my 55 hour labor.
Kathryn also filmed the painting from start to finish, which she is editing into a speed painting video for her website.  Here is a still from it.

UPDATE: Watch Kathryn's "Speed Painting" video of this work.

April 29, 2011

Easter 2011 | All Things New

He is risen!  The full congregation at Grace gathered with one voice this past Easter to celebrate the resurrection.  It was a beautiful morning of prayer, hearing God's Word, and fellowship with the Body.

There was a 16-piece ensemble of voices and instrumentalists leading us in song.  Here's a recording of "All Things New."  Reflecting on the closing verses of the Bible in Revelation 22:20, the text is by Horatius Bonar, written in 19th century Scotland, with a new melody and chorus lyrics by Clint Wells of Red Mountain Music.  I arranged the instrumental parts, initially inspired by Sufjan Stevens (and a little help from Howard Shore).

All Things New - Easter 2011 by rare sunshine

And here is a link to the bulletin used for the service.

He is risen indeed!

March 08, 2011

observing lent

The Season of Lent starts this week on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the day before Easter.  The duration of Lent is forty days, reflecting the periods of forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land and forty days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness following his baptism.  Originating in the fourth century as the time of preparation for baptism of new Christians, the season is traditionally observed chiefly through prayer, as well as penitence and self-denial, and focuses on the cross and union with Christ through baptism.

If you are considering how to observe Lent, here are a few things to check out:
  • Follow this plan for Bible reading and prayer provided by Covenant Presbyterian in Chicago (print versions will be available on Sundays at Grace)

February 08, 2011

harmony in worship

the sermon this Sunday at Grace will be the first of three on unity in the church. this always seems to be a relevant topic, especially when we look around and see a lack of unity throughout the body played out in the existence of denominations, within churches, and around the dinner table.

in my small group last night, we studied the last part of John 17, where Jesus is praying that we would be one in the same way that he and the Father are one. part of our discussion centered on the fact that we fail to individually to pray for unity in the church.

I was reminded that worship is one of the major dividing lines that display our disunity: music, liturgy, prayer, and preaching all reflect how we might disagree with what someone else thinks we should be doing in worship. in fact, the Protestant Reformation was sparked largely due to reasons of worship.

big or small, disputes in the church seem inevitable. rather than getting discouraged about the state of disunity in worship, let's take a look at a few areas in our worship that draw us together with the Body of Christ:

you may not realize it, but the hymns that we sing reflect a wide diversity historically and theologically. open nearly any hymnal and you will find hymns written by Charles Wesley, Robert Lowry, and Horatius Bonar, or a Methodist, a Baptist, and Scottish Presbyterian, repectively. theologically, each of these devout Christians may find points of disagreement, but we can still sing their hymns in the same service of worship because they all share the same faith in Christ's death and resurrection for us. somehow the text of the hymns that we sing are able to transcend theological boundaries.

the form of our liturgy at Grace has many elements in common with many western church traditions other than our own, including Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics. the parts may not all be in the same order, but you will find Scripture readings, congregational prayers, preaching, and the Lord's Supper in many Christian worship services.

one specific area that is perhaps the most explicit call to unity in a worship service is the use of creeds and confessions. every time we recite the Apostles' Creed in worship, we profess the same Orthodox truths of the faith that have been held since the early church. the Nicene Creed was written as a result of the first ecumenical church council in AD 325 in response to heresies that were causing disunity in the church. in fact, any creed or confession that you come across was written for the purpose of declaring the unity of belief shared by a large group of Christians.

so as we gather this Sunday and every Sunday to come, let us be encouraged by the fact that we gather to sing, pray, and speak with One Voice on account of our redemption in Christ.

January 25, 2011

we all have stories - concert details

On Feb. 11, Grace Pres is sponsoring a concert at The King's Academy Theater in Sunnyvale.  Songwriters Sandra McCracken and Matthew Smith are part of the hymn renewal movement, and will be sharing their songs and the stories behind them.  Purchase tickets and get more info here.

If you aren't familiar with Sandra and Matthew, you can stream and download their music in the players below.

For the last decade, Sandra and Matthew have been part of the hymn renewal movement that started on college campuses through ministries like RUF and has passed along to the greater church.  Musicians take long-lost texts—from familiar writers (Watts, Newton, Wesley) and less-familiar writers (Steele, Medley)—and refresh the music, both through brand new melodies and keeping classic melodies, making them accessible to congregations where hymns have fallen out of practice (or have never been in practice!).

Matthew's version of "Come Ye Sinners" opens the first volume from Indelible Grace, the seminal album in the hymn movement, effectively taking what was going on in 90's RUF campus ministries and bringing it to the ears of congregations nationwide (and subsequently worldwide).  Since then, he has played an integral part in developing the reach of IG's music, not only writing and singing on each of the group's albums, but also taking care of a lot of the day-to-day business of keeping the ministry alive.  Matthew is also the "touring face" of Indelible Grace, regularly taking a band on the road to share the music and vision of IG.  On his own, Matthew has also released many hymn records of his material, most recently "Watch The Rising Day" (streaming below).  At Grace Pres, we have recently been singing his great version of "All Must Be Well" from the fifth Indelible Grace album.

Sandra has also been a part of Indelible Grace music since the start, singing on each album and contributing new material.  Along the way, her version of "Thy Mercy My God" was recorded by Caedmon's Call, introducing retuned hymns to a wider audience.  As a touring singer-songwriter, she has released many critically-acclaimed recordings, working with many of the great names in Americana and Folk music.  She has also released two albums of her hymns.  Her most recent album, "In Feast Or Fallow," is largely composed of fully-original material, filled not just with new music but with new lyrics as well.

The music Sandra and Matthew will be sharing on February 11 is also a large part of my story as a musician for the past decade.  Not long after transferring to a college in Tennessee, I started attending a Sunday school class led by Kevin Twit, RUF pastor at Belmont.  Just as I was being exposed to this new experience of singing hymns with a guitar, Kevin released the first Indelible Grace album.  At the time I couldn't really explain what it was about those songs that moved me so deeply in worship, but it kept me going through those three years of school and played a large role in my development spiritually and as a worship leader.

Toward the end of my time in TN, the second IG album was being recorded, and I got to squeeze my accordion onto a few tracks.  Later that year, IG received a grant to produce the RUF Hymnbook, and I was on the team of music transcriptionists who turned out sheet music for 143 hymns from the RUF movement.  In addition to the printed edition, the grant provided for a website to be produced, giving all of that content away for free.  One of the main hurdles for worship songwriters to gain a hearing in the church is providing printed music, as this is the necessary medium that many church musicians work with on a regular basis.  RUF music was perceived as "college music" to the church at large, and thought impossible to translate to congregations, and the Hymnbook was one step along the way for this music to gain acceptance with music ministries nationwide.  Almost 10 years later, Indelible Grace and other groups (notably Red Mountain Music, Bifrost Arts, and The Welcome Wagon) have made it possible for the profound expressions of worship and praise found in hymns to transcend generational, cultural, and musical barriers.

I hope that you are able to take part in this special evening, to be encouraged in your own story as you see the shared path of all our stories in worshipping Christ, our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

January 11, 2011

The Daily Practice of Reading

During community group last night, we all shared the struggle to read the Bible with any amount of regularity. Different reasons cause this lack of consistency, and I was encouraged to know that I'm not alone in this problem. So what can we do to get back on track?

One system that I have been using recently is the daily readings from the Book Of Common Prayer (BCP).  Developed in the sixteenth century, the BCP is still used today as the prayer book for Anglicans and Episcopalians worldwide.  Among other things, BCP includes a set of daily readings that follow a two-year cycle through the entire Bible.

What's great is that you don't have to run out and buy a BCP study plan, or even print off a page of readings to follow! The online ESV offers the BCP as one of its devotionals. Each day, the BCP readings are posted in one long set. Even better, you can listen to the reading!

Where I struggle with many of the Bible reading programs available is that they ask you to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This means you'll spend at least a week reading only the Book of Numbers, and even longer in Chronicles! Getting bogged down in the data and style of ancient literature can be taxing and discouraging.

Where a program like the BCP suceeds is that each day offers a variety of readings: Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament epistle, and Gospel. So you'll still get into Numbers and Chronicles, but it'll be given in manageable chunks along with other more familiar texts.

For me, the main difficulty in being consistent is getting Bible reading into my daily habit. With a child, I've learned that no two days–or nights–are ever the same. Even when I get to work, I rarely have the same flow to my day as the day before.

But there has to be something with which we're always consistent!  For me, that moment happens when I open my web browser for the first time each morning. The first thing I do is open a folder of daily bookmarks that contain important things I want to check, including my to do list and what the latest deal is on Woot. Since this is my habit, I added the BCP link to this folder. Now, whenever I open up these pages, my readings for the day are waiting for me.

In the end, we each have to find what works best for our daily habits. Some days are going to be harder than others to find time to read, but the daily practice of reading the Bible is one that will encourage you to continue practicing your faith and grow deeper in your knowledge of the truth.

  • What ways have you found that help you read the Bible daily?